Dear CME Family:
One of the pastors of the Eighth Episcopal District awoke my liturgical calendar yesterday (Wednesday, May 12) when she responded to a text of mine. What I was writing about was, I thought, scheduled to happen on Wednesday. Her telephone text answer brought a smile: “Bishop, thank you, but it is on Ascension Day. Thursday. It still is good.”
Her words brought a smile because it is so easy in the administrative places where bishops live to become alien to the rhythm of the Liturgical Year. The cycles that we lived in prior to carrying the sometimes tedious weights we carry can be forgotten … if we are not careful, or closely observant. It is helpful when pastors remind us – and it is needed that pastors and teachers remind all of us, clergy and laity – of the sacred movements of spiritual life in the Church. Otherwise, we become disciple-less workhands, moving an almost mechanical “thing we call church” rather than guiding this living instrument of God’s mercy and God’s grace. (It was Rev. David M. Wilkins who would use that phrase to correct me sometimes, saying, “You mean, in this thing we call church?”) Sometimes our rote ways of doing God’s work reduces God’s Church to “this thing we call church.”
If we are not careful, if we are not disciplined to examine and feed our individual, spiritual nexus, we may lose our lifeline to God’s wholeness and salvation.
So, thank you, Pastor, for reminding me on Wednesday that this Thursday, May 13th, is also a holy day: the day on which our Lord Jesus, who had shown Himself to His disciples after having risen from the dead and lived among them for many days, ascended into heaven. He ascended from the mount where he had directed them to go after being raised from the dead, and He ascended before their very eyes back into the heavenly realm.
Luke says, in his first treatise (the Gospel of Luke): “When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands, and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven” (Luke 24:50-51, NIV).
In his second treatise (the Acts of the Apostles), Luke writes:
He said to them, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:7-11, NIV)
I remember my father preaching the last paragraph of that text. He preached, “Why Stand Ye Gazing?” because those were the words of the King James Version (“… why stand ye gazing up into heaven?”) of this text.
Ascension Day – and this Sunday, Ascension Sunday – remind me that Jesus left His disciples with a promise for more; Jesus called them to expect something. To expect His return? Yes. But even more was the promise that they were to receive new power, new passion, new energy, new forcefulness, and the strength to persevere! So, while we rejoice as His own “homegoing” (or, Ascension) we also anticipate our own power, our own authority, our own “muscle” that we will receive from God, so that we may be active with God in God’s working!
What do you anticipate – for yourself? for your loved ones? for your church? Anything? Or do you simply stand, gazing. He or she who anticipates nothing must not know this same Jesus.
Senior Bishop Lawrence Reddick